The second largest school district in the United States has decided, just months after the city of Los Angeles passed a resolution on the topic, to join the Meatless Monday movement. In the wake of discussions with The HSUS, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced it will offer exclusively meat-free meals in its K-12 cafeterias every Monday, and will educate students about the health benefits of eating more plant-based foods. The LAUSD serves 650,000 meals daily to one of the most ethnically diverse student populations in the world.
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The federal government created Meatless Monday as a resource-saving measure during World War I, but the idea found a place in twenty-first century discussions about food choices when in 2003 the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Monday Campaigns began to promote the idea of abstaining from meat one day a week for personal and planetary health reasons. According to the Environmental Working Group, if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over the course of one year, the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be the equivalent of taking more than 7 million cars off the road.
At The HSUS, in terms of our farm animal policy, we primarily focus on “refinement” and “reduction” when it comes to animal agriculture. We work to “refine” production practices by banning intensive confinement practices like gestation crates and battery cages, working with farmers who reject those methods and demonstrate more humane ways of raising animals, and encouraging consumers to make conscientious choices in the marketplace whenever they do buy meat, dairy, and egg products. We also urge consumers to “reduce” consumption, as with Meatless Mondays, since there’s no way to raise billions of animals in extensive systems with the current level of demand in the U.S. The resources needed for this output of meat are not economically or ecologically sustainable for our nation, or our planet.
It’s a canard for agriculture groups to argue that a modest reduction in consumption of animal products – 15 percent, by just skipping those products one day a week – would produce adverse economic outcomes for farmers. During the last 40 years, there’s been an enormous surge in confinement agriculture and a plummeting of family farming operations. Since 1970, the country has lost more than 90 percent of pig farmers, more than 95 percent of egg farmers, and more than 85 percent of dairy producers. We’ve seen a loss in economic activity and population in rural communities, and gains by vertically integrated conglomerates like Tyson Foods. These mega companies imprison animals in huge windowless buildings while extending their reach into agriculture and supply chains by hiring “contract farmers” who put up all the money for land and buildings, but don’t even own the animals they are raising. It’s a cheap-meat formula that has produced misery for animals and economic ruin for tens of thousands of farmers.
In terms of global concerns, if China and India continue to move in the direction of industrialized animal agriculture and see a loss in family farming, as occurred in the U.S., it is an animal welfare and environmental disaster in the making – with enormous implications for water loss and contamination, greenhouse gas emissions and topsoil loss.
Programs like Meatless Monday are crucial components of our global campaign to end factory farming. If all Americans participated in Meatless Monday, more than a billion animals would be spared the miseries of factory farms. Eliminating meat one day a week doesn’t require much in the way of a reconfiguring of our lives, and it provides so many benefits. If you’d like to join Los Angeles Unified School District in helping animals, the environment, and your health, it’s as easy as starting with your next meal. Here’s The HSUS’ Guide to Meat-Free Meals, and check out our Meatless Monday video.